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JFL Team Profile - FC Ryukyu

There can be few Japanese clubs who have packed as much into their short history as FC Ryukyu. With a squad made up in part with players from neighbours Okinawa Kariyushi, the club was formed in early 2003, the intention being to become the first J-League team in the southern archipelago of Okinawa. Later that year, Ryukyu dipped their toe into the sea of competition in Division 3 (North) of the Okinawa Prefectural League - and raced to the title, amassing a staggering ninety two (92) goals in their nine games, conceding only two.

In the close season, 30,000 signatures were added to a local petition expressing support for the establishment of a J-League team in the area and Ryukyu were fast-tracked by the Okinawa FA, straight to the giddy heights of the Prefectural League Division 1. Prior to the start of the 2004 campaign, however, in order to oversee the next stage of the team’s on-the-pitch development, a new coach was appointed in the shape of Jorge Yonashiro.

A key figure in the pre-J-League days of Japanese football, following his retirement as a player, Yonashiro coached at both Nagoya Grampus 8 and Kyoto Purple Sanga before heading down to Ryukyu. He was quickly followed by vital new signings such as Shinji Fujiyoshi - a forward who had represented Japan at the Barcelona Olympics and had picked up extensive J-League experience with Verdy Kawasaki, Kyoto and Vegalta Sendai – and ex-Albirex Niigata midfielder Ricardo Higa, as Ryukyu worked to improve their squad for the challenges ahead.

Despite actually drawing one of their league matches, the club nevertheless took the Okinawa Prefectural League championship and then swept aside their three opponents (aggregate score: 21-0) in the promotion play-offs to claim a place in the Kyushu League. They’d also provided further evidence of the team’s ability to compete at a higher level in the Emperor’s Cup competition, running J2 outfit Montedio Yamagata close in a 3-2 defeat after extra time.

2005 therefore saw the club arrive at Regional League level - and right from the start of the season, there was little doubt in the minds of local fans that the most significant confrontations would be between Ryukyu and their monied rivals Rosso Kumamoto. A 7-0 drubbing of troubled Kariyushi in round 2 had them charging out of the blocks and it was really only Rosso that caused Yonashiro’s men any serious difficulties: 1-0 defeats home and away pushed Ryukyu into second position and gave Rosso the championship.

A place in the Regional League Championship Winners Play-off tournament nevertheless beckoned and with Ricardo Higa dominant, the team dismissed Luminozo Sayama and Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku in the First Round – Higa then proving the hero in the opening match of the Final Stage, nicking in a stoppage time free-kick for a 1-1 draw against Rosso, who were then sensationally beaten 5-4 on penalties. The following day, a late own goal gave Ryukyu a 1-0 win over JEF United Amateurs and a spot in the JFL was sealed.

But 2006 didn’t work out as planned for the Okinawans and, while Rosso remained in the title race almost throughout the season, Ryukyu were in spite of their sizable home support unable to make their presence felt and spent the entire year stuck in the bottom third. Results such as a 6-0 thrashing at home to Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo made it inevitable that Yonashiro and a large proportion of his underachieving squad would move on and the club did well to replace him as coach with Hideo Yoshizawa from champions Honda FC.
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